When I found out that Miriam lived in Chicago, only three hours from me, I decided I needed to go on a road trip and meet this woman who had helped me so much with my grief and discovering the new me. I contacted her and she graciously responded and we met for coffee after she had spent her entire morning watching her grandson wrestle and take the championship. I was so blessed to meet her and talk more about our journeys and we quickly became long distance, dear friends though the mutual bond we share. She asked me a few months ago if I would be willing to share my story for her website and I am finally sitting down to share it with you so grab a cup of coffee and read on.
My life changed dramatically on May 18, 2007. I was in Rochester, Minnesota with my husband at Mayo Clinic when I heard the words "Your husband has a motor neuron disease called ALS. He has 2-5 years to live. You should get your affairs in order." It may not have been those exact words, but that is what we took from our neurologist after a week's worth of testing.
I sobbed uncontrollably while my husband comforted me and held it together. This is not how we planned our life together. We were going to grow old together. We were going to buy a bed and breakfast when our kids left the house and sit and rock at night on the large wrap-around porch together. All of my dreams with Eric were being slowly ripped out from under me.
We talked on the Wings of Mercy flight home about what Eric wanted to do before he left this earth. Top on his list was to visit all 50 states , get a dog, spend time with those he loved and share Christ and his testimony with anyone he could.
Less than three years later on April 21, 2010, Eric went to meet our Lord in heaven. We had visited all but 5 states including Hawaii. We adopted a dog, not a puppy as my husband wanted. (I had to draw the line since I was his sole caregiver and we had two young children) He spoke at schools, for ALSA, in Washington before congressmen, we shared our testimony at our church and to anyone who would listen. Christ was our Rock and our strength. Our verse we clung to during those years was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. "
When Eric passed away, I thought I would never get through it, never be happy, never see past my grief, even after years of counseling. I couldn't even see past that day and my sorrow. I recall feeling a similar feeling when I had my first child. The pain was so horrible, I thought I couldn't imagine ever having another child after going through countless hours of back labor that ended in a C-section. The very next day, as I held Zach in my arms, I thought that was not so bad and look at this beautiful baby we have. Now you may think this is not the same, you are talking about a life and a death, but God's word says this in John 16:20-22 referring to the way the disciples would grieve at Jesus death. "Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into this world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." Jesus focuses on the joy we will receive after we grieve. Mostly that joy comes from the fact that we will meet Him face to face when we exit to heaven but also that we will see our loved ones again who believed in Him. The weekend we prepared for Eric's funeral, I felt the Lord lift a heavy burden from me that told me I was going to get through this. I was even able to see God open up the sky after a weekend of rain and shine down on me at the cemetery when we were burying Eric as if to say "Eric is not in that grave, He is here with me and you will see him again." I actually smiled for the first time on the ride home thanking God for his faithfulness. It is so hard to believe that suffering can produce joy, but there are so many references in scripture that say exactly that! (Psalm 90:13-15, Psalm 51:12, Psalm 126:5, Romans 12:12 and James 1:2-3 to name just a few)
I have done a lot of grieving and a lot of thinking and praying about what I am supposed to do with Eric gone and who I am, what is my purpose? Miriam said it so well in her book Widow to Widow. She said half of you has been torn away when you lose a spouse, you need to take the time to heal that wound and discover who you are as a new person. Not a wounded half person, but a new whole person. When I read that this past summer, I knew that is what I was doing and it was healthy and OK. I did so many great things with Eric and supported him in so many of his passions all of our life together and now I had to figure out what God created me to do, what are my passions? I have decided to spend my time taking care of myself and others as Miriam suggests. I had neglected my health some while taking care of Eric so I started to focus on getting healthy. I have lost 30 lbs since September through eating healthier, smaller portions and exercising and I feel great. I have more energy to take care of my kids and others I care about. I have learned my spiritual gifts and my purpose by a small group study in my home called Chazown by Craig Groeschel and am so excited to live this out and "end up somewhere on purpose". I have had numerous opportunities to testify to God's goodness in my life. Recently I heard another verse that summarizes well my brokenness and grief. Isaiah 64:8 states "Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Then I heard another reference to this last week at church in Jeremiah 18:3-4 that says "So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him." I was marred and broken when Eric passed away, but God took that same clay he formed me with before being broken and is creating something new as He sees best. That is encouraging to me. God isn't finished with me yet and His plans are always better than my plans.
A good analogy of how we see our life I had explained to me once is that of a puzzle. When you look at one piece of a puzzle, you cannot make out what the picture will become. You see just one fragment of the whole picture. As you join pieces together, you start to see some of the puzzle but you cannot see the whole picture until you fit every piece together. Our life is like this puzzle. We are just a few pieces of this amazing picture but we can't make sense of it because it is not complete. Our pieces could consist of many things such as our family, where we grew up, friends, possible college or a career, marriage, maybe divorce, children, infertility, miscarriage, financial freedom, financial bankruptcy and in our case loss of a loved one, our husband. Many of these pieces don't make sense on their own, but God is knitting together a beautiful picture and only He can see the whole thing. He is the Potter and we are the clay. Romans 8:28 says "and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes. " God will make it clear to us some day. I pray that you know Him and his promises are real to you. I find it no coincidence that God has brought me comfort in his Word and the timing of it and I hope you may find that to be the case for you too and you are encouraged today!
Blessings, Lori Fox